Sisera (Hebrew: סִיסְרָא Sîsərā) was commander of the Canaanite army of King Jabin of Hazor, who is mentioned in Judges 4-5 of the Hebrew Bible. After being defeated by the forces of the Israelite tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali under the command of Barak and Deborah, Sisera was killed by Jael, who hammered a tent peg into his temple.
- 1Biblical account
- 2Sisera in later legend
- 3Sisera in artistic works
According to the biblical book of Judges, Sisera commanded 900 iron chariots and oppressed the Israelites for twenty years from Harosheth Haggoyim, a fortified cavalry base. After the prophetess Deborah persuaded Barak to face Sisera in battle, they, with an Israelite force of ten thousand, defeated him at the Battle of Mount Tabor on the plain of Esdraelon. Judges 5: 20 says that "the stars in their courses fought against Sisera", and the following verse implies that the army was swept away by the river Kishon. Following the battle, there was peace for forty years.
After losing the battle, Sisera fled to the settlement of Heber the Kenite in the plain of Zaanaim, where he was received by Jael, Heber's wife. Jael brought him into her tent with apparenthospitality and gave him milk. Jael promised to hide Sisera and covered him with a rug; but after he fell asleep, she drove a tent peg through his temple with a mallet, her blow being so forceful that the peg pinned his head to the ground.
Sisera's name has been variously identified as Philistine, Hittite, Hurrian, or Egyptian (Ses-Ra, "servant of Ra"). The Israeli scholar and archaeologist Adam Zertal identifies Sisera with the sea people called Shardana (or Sherden), arguing that Sisera came from the island of Sardinia. Zertal and Oren Cohen proposed that the excavation at El-ahwat between Katzir-Harishand Nahal Iron is the site of Harosheth Haggoyim.
Sisera in later legend
According to Jewish legend, because Sisera's mother cried a hundred cries when he did not return home, 100 blasts are blown on the shofar on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. The Talmud states that the descendants of Sisera studied Torah in Jerusalem and even taught children there.
According to the Midrash, Jael engaged in sexual intercourse with Sisera seven times, but because she was attempting to exhaust him in order to kill him, her sin was for Heaven's sake and therefore praiseworthy.
Also according to the Midrash, Sisera had previously conquered every country against which he had fought. His voice was so strong that, when he called loudly, the most solid wall would shake and the wildest animal would fall dead. Deborah was the only one who could withstand his voice and not be stirred from her place. Sisera caught fish enough in his beard when bathing in the Kishon to provision his whole army, and 31 kings followed Sisera merely for the opportunity of drinking, or otherwise using, the waters of Israel. According to B. Gittin, the descendants of Sisera were teachers of the young in Jerusalem.
Sisera in artistic works
"Jael Smote Sisera, and Slew Him," by James Tissot in the collection of the Jewish Museum (New York).
Pietro Alessandro Guglielmi (1728-1804) wrote an oratorio, Debora e Sisera, for the Lenten season of 1788 at the Teatro di San Carlo,Naples, which was said to have been "almost universally regarded as one of the most sublime works of the late 18th century."
German composer Simon Mayr wrote an oratorio (1793) on the story of Sisera for the church of San Lazzaro dei Mendicanti in Venice.
In a half-hour radio drama, Butter in a Lordly Dish (1948), Agatha Christie has her protagonist drug a lawyer's coffee; after revealing her true identity, she hammers a nail into his head.
The central image of Aritha van Herk's novel 'The Tent Peg' refers to Sisera.
In Anthony Trollope's novel The Last Chronicle of Barset, artist Conway Dalrymple paints the heiress Clara Van Siever as Jael driving a nail through the head of Sisera.
The story of Jael and Sisera has been the subject of many paintings, including those by Artemisia Gentileschi, Gregorio Lazzarini, James Northcote and James Tissot.
In Shelby Foote's Stars in Their Courses (1994), about the Battle of Gettysburg, the author reflects on the defeat of General Robert E. Lee.
"The Stars in Their Courses" is the title of a chapter about the Battle of Gettysburg in the novel Lone Star Preacher (1941) by John Thomason. The quotation from Judges 5:20 appears at the end of the chapter.
In the Law & Order episode "Pro Se," the schizophrenic James Smith suffers from the delusion that (among other things) he is General Sisera and various women are trying to poison him.